Monday, February 22, 2010

The Well and the Mine

Disclaimer: I do not seek out Southern fiction, but sometimes it finds me.

A few weeks ago I read a glowing review in Publishers Weekly about a debut Southern writer. Gin Phillips chose to write about a coal mining town in Alabama in 1931. Pre-teen Tess watches a woman throw a baby into her family's well. In her child's mind, this becomes a mystery that plays out against rural America during the Depression, against racism, potential mine disasters, company towns, and poverty. Yet the family is strong and supportive, and the climax is subtle and profound. From her opening sentence, "After she threw the baby in, nobody believed me for the longest time." Now, THAT'S a hook.

Phillips has a fine ear for idiom, but doesn't bog down dialogue with regionalisms. Enough for the reader to get the point, but no more. Her characters are as down to earth as the coal dust in work-hardened hands. Her language soars and dips, spare and lush, and always drives the story forward.

I loved the experience of reading this book. I didn't put it on a Kindle. This demands the reader enjoy it in analog format -- a page-turning book.

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